Magazine article Anglican Journal

The Bells of St. Cuthbert's: How One Tiny Parish Created a Dynamic Christmas Eve Service That Packs the House

Magazine article Anglican Journal

The Bells of St. Cuthbert's: How One Tiny Parish Created a Dynamic Christmas Eve Service That Packs the House

Article excerpt

ST. CUTHBERT'S Anglican Church lies at the top of a steep hill overlooking the picturesque fishing village of Northwest Cove, on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. On almost every Christmas Eve since Rev. Laura McCue has been in the parish, it has rained. "It is not postcard perfect," says McCue, of the family service held inside this tiny church each Christmas Eve, "but it's magical."

St. Cuthbert's is the smallest of the three churches in the coastal parish of Blandford. But it is home to the biggest service of the year, drawing up to 127 people, who overflow the pews meant for half that number. McCue thinks one of the reasons so many people come to the Christmas Eve service is "a sense of longing" at Christmas time. The service is so special, she says, because "we all take the time to recognize there is a God and there's a lot of beauty and there's a lot of hope. It makes for one magical moment."

The hour-long service starts at four in the afternoon and draws many families who don't usually attend any church. "It's the fastest hour of my life," says McCue, 40, who came to the parish in 2004, the same year she was ordained. "It's action-packed." Children are involved in every part, from drawing the image for the front cover of the bulletin, to welcoming people at the door and taking up the offering. Sheri Eaton, from Upper Blandford, designed the life-size animals the children helped to make. The goat is orange, the cow is bright green, yellow and brown. "It really has a barn kind of feeling," says McCue.

Children act out the Christmas story as the gospel is being read. They sing easy-to-remember carols and end the service with their favourite upbeat carol, "Come On, Ring those Bells." "Every child receives a bell. Some chime, some dong, and I play the guitar," says McCue. Jackie Cleveland plays the organ and last year there were two more guitarists, making it a "real band," says McCue. "It's a sensory experience: lots of singing, lots of action." McCue adds that the service and the preparations for it create beautiful memories for the children "that will last the rest of their lives."

McCue regards Christmas Eve as a night of miracles and she finds plenty of evidence in the love and joy that ring out as the children take part in the service. It has become McCue's favourite service and the children's also. "They ask me, 'Why can't it be like this every Sunday?'"

McCue recalls just such a moment from last year's service. Kaitlyn Zinck of Blandford, who was eight at the time, was playing the part of Mary, and her older sister, Leeann, aged 10, was playing the angel Gabriel. With no words, Kaitlyn's eyes completely expressed "the scary and awesome news" she received from the angel. Later in the play, Katelyn knelt down with a doll, kissed it gently on the forehead, and laid it in the manger. "This was the movement of the Holy Spirit," says McCue. "She taught us the meaning of Mary's story. It came alive."

So when children come to church at other times, McCue tries to give them all a role to play in the service. For example, both Zinck girls are now servers, or acolytes, with the important tasks of carrying the processional cross and helping the priest prepare the Lord's Table. Meanwhile, their mother, Brenda Harnish, helps out by preparing food and organizing craft activities at other children's events in the parish. …

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